‘The Wolverine’ Review
‘The Wolverine‘ is unlike any other superhero ever made. It is, for the first three quarters of its running time anyway, just a “regular movie” that happens to star a guy with magical mutant powers. There have been films that tried to realistically portray what reality would be like if ordinary people put on a cape and mask (‘Super’ and ‘Kick-Ass,’ namely) but this reverses it. ‘The Wolverine’ doesn’t show our world with a comic book injection, it shows a comic book world with an injection from our world. And by our world I mean conventional, Hollywood thriller/noir/dramas.
It’s a neat trick. But don’t get too excited. There are two big issues. One, the “regular movie” at the heart of ‘The Wolverine’ isn’t that interesting – it’s a fairly by-the-book tale of corporate corruption, family drama and the mob. Two, there’s that final quarter of the film, where ‘The Wolverine’ craps the bed and slouches toward every comic book movie cliché, most of them done poorly.
You don’t need to know much about Hugh Jackman‘s mutant Logan going into this film, which is set after 2006′s ‘X-Men: The Last Stand.’ His powers and central drive are shown, not told, in a remarkable first scene set at the Nagasaki detonation during World War II. Logan’s a good guy, and saves the life of a Japanese soldier. (He does so in such a way that his skin peels off but grows back because of his healing factor and it is just gross enough for 13-year-olds to go “awesome!” but not too gross to freak them out for the rest of their lives.)
That soldier grows up to become the head of a powerful tech giant and now that he’s on his death bed he requests an audience with the man who was able to provide him with the time to lead a long, natural life. Logan, however, is hiding out in the woods, growing his hair and beard, and being miserable because he is immortal and he killed the love of his life, Jean Grey. (If you are fuzzy on how he actually did that, it isn’t important – you just need to know he is guilty and sad.)
A feisty Japanese gal named Yukio tracks him down, impresses him with her martial arts prowess, and convinces him to go to Japan. Here’s where ‘The Wolverine’ really starts to resemble one of the Sean Connery 007 films. Our hero – a handsome movie star in the classic mold – starts poking around a big, complex conspiracy involving money, power, weapons, beautiful damsels and tempting murderesses.
You’ve seen it before, but you’ve never seen it with a guy with adamantium bonded to his bones or with the ability to survive a katana direct through the belly. A superpowered fight atop a bullet train makes for an unusual addition to watching a couple flee yakuza baddies to hide in a “love hotel.” This agreeable uniqueness is, however, undercut by a rather choppy story. There’s a hundred different bad guys in ‘The Wolverine’ and none of them are interesting. There’s a corrupt politician, a meanie son/father, some dude who always shows up out of nowhere with a bow and arrow, and then there’s Viper.
Viper, played by Svetlana Khodchenkova, is dropped-in from a different movie. With luscious hair, voluptuous curves and the tendency to always find time for a costume change, she’s basically a Schumacher-era Batman villain. She isn’t bad (she’s actually rather amusing) but it is a clanging off-note in the film’s rather specific melody.
The big battle at the end, alas, decides to go all-in on Viper and what that type of movie represents. It’s not original, or even dazzling and – frankly – there’s a third act reveal that elicited some laughter in the screening I attended.
Do I think ‘The Wolverine’ is good? I must confess, I do not. But, I’m really impressed with what Mangold and company tried to do here, and I like that this is very much a “self-contained” movie. The superhero genre needs its cage rattled, and this tried to do that. Unfortunately, the mere act of rattling without an engaging story and then running to the tried-and-true for the conclusion isn’t enough.
(Also, it’s to note that, more so even that most movies, the post-conversion 3D on ‘The Wolverine’ is unnecessary. I did the “take off your glasses” check a handful of time and barely noticed a difference.)‘The Wolverine’ opens in theaters on July 26.
Jordan Hoffman is a writer, critic and lapsed filmmaker living in New York City. His work can also be seen on Film.com, Badass Digest and StarTrek.com.